Cam Ward stopped 34 shots and was named the second star of the game, but it wasn’t enough, as the ‘Canes lost their first game of the young season, 3-1, to the Detroit Red Wings.
“We were in the game for most of it,” Ward said after the game. “We tried to keep the puck in their zone, but they play so strong defensively, it was hard to generate anything.”
The team was almost unrecognizable in their new, jet-black third jerseys, but its old habit of allowing the first goal continued. 20 seconds into a Ray Whitney penalty at 13:05 in the first period, six-time Norris Trophy winner Lidstrom buried a Pavel Datsyuk pass and made it 1-0.
During a flurry of ‘Canes activity, Red Wings backup goaltender Ty Conklin experienced déjà vu of the worst kind, in the form of a play strongly reminiscent of the one that forced him out of the starting position in game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals, when he was playing for Edmonton.
After watching the Oilers’ three-goal lead disappear and No.1 goaltender Dwayne Roloson went down with a knee injury, Conklin, inactive throughout the playoffs, stepped onto the ice as cold as a frozen TV dinner package. He was stripped of the puck behind the net by Rod Brind’Amour, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Conklin was replaced by Jussi Markkanen and never returned to the finals.
Two years and two teams later, Conklin – backing up Wings star Chris Osgood – found himself in the same predicament. He anticipated the puck’s movement behind the net and went back to meet it, only to have it bounce right in front of the goal mouth. Tuomo Ruutu sent the puck just wide, and Conklin will almost certainly be revisited by those old nightmares tonight.
Carolina tied the score 57 seconds into the second period with even-strength goal from Joe Corvo – his first of the season. Corvo said he just picked a hole and fired, but that he had an unfair advantage on Conklin.
“I knew he saved it,” Brandon Sutter, the unfortunate recipient of the non-goal, said. “It was a good play that Roddy made to me. I fired the puck as hard as I could, and he made an unbelievable save.”
Soon afterward, Tomas Holmstrom scored his third of the season from his favorite location: in the crease, with his rear end in Cam Ward’s face and Joni Pitkanen tugging uselessly at his side.
With Whitney in the box for slashing, the Carolina penalty kill finally looked to be getting into a groove, but when Tim Gleason took a double-minor cross-checking and unsportsmanlike conduct right as the Whitney one expired, the game appeared to be over, packaged, and postmarked. However, the ‘Canes were able to kill off the entire four minutes, looking strong and in-control all the while.
Head coach Peter Laviolette called that one kill a “bright spot” in a game filled with mediocre special team play. Detroit’s first two goals were scored on the power play.
“We’ve been taking lazy penalties, lots of hooking and holding,” coach Laviolette said. “That has to stop, because it’s going to kill us.”
“You don’t want to put a good team like Detroit in the power play, because there are a lot of highly skilled players on that team that can make you look bad,” Ward said.
With the Red Wings falling into a rhythm of methodical, shut-down hockey late in the game, the ‘Canes struggled to create scoring opportunities. They were the recipients of a few lucky bounces – a hard Franzen shot rang off the crossbar and a Hossa narrowly missed an empty netter with Ward pulled, but they couldn’t find that tying goal.
Henrik Zetterberg finally sealed the game with an empty-netter with 16 seconds remaining.
The ‘Canes will now head off on a 6-game road trip and will not return to the RBC Center until Nov. 1, against the aforementioned Edmonton Oilers. The road trip will take them out west to Anaheim and Los Angeles and north as far as Montreal. ‘Canes rookie Zach Boychuk has been cleared to play after undergoing wrist surgery and could play as soon as Friday against Los Angeles.